Government Technology

What Seabrook, Texas, CIO Learned From Hurricane Ike

George Szakacs
George Szakacs

February 9, 2009 By

After taking the job as IT manager of Seabrook, Texas, shortly before the 2008 hurricane season started, George Szakacs discovered what it truly means to keep yourself and your data above water.

How does Seabrook respond to natural disasters like hurricanes?

The city has a standard drill, and if looks like a hurricane, emergency managers prepare us for the worst. They look at the worst it could be and measure the response from that. If it could be even a Category 1, they usually get ready for the roofs to get blown off. We have black plastic that we cover our computers with and phone system - everything is covered in black like a little funeral.

How many times did you have to do that in 2008?

Three times [last] year. The third time [in September] we were pretty sure because of the size of Hurricane Ike that most of the Texas coast would be impacted. So we got ready for it. I finished up my stuff a day and a half before the hurricane and left town.

What did you do with equipment - like the servers - before you evacuated?

The main thing is having them backed up. When things really fail, the first question that anyone asks is, 'When was your last back up?' So I have always - for many, many years - if I don't do anything else, I back up. Because losing everyone's work is the most horrible thing that could happen to a network. The first time I backed up for [Tropical Storm] Edouard, I found out that it takes a very long time to back up, so as soon as that was over, I ordered gigabyte equipment to where I can back up most of the data in about two hours.

I had three or four - three minimum - fresh copies of the backup. I drove one set away on external drives, and I put one set up in the water tower. It's ironic that you put stuff in the water tower to prevent it from water, but the new water towers have a million gallons of water on top of them and they are built of solid concrete. So nothing will blow that away. If something blows that away, you might as well not come back because we wouldn't have a tax base anymore. I put my new equipment in the water tower - it's about 25 feet above ground - and we were actually getting warnings of a 20- or 22-foot storm surge the day before the storm. That would have really been terrible; I think we ended up getting about half of that.

Were you able to continue IT operations after evacuating?

Absolutely. We have two Internet connections, and I was able to use both until the storm hit. The eye of the storm came through here. I was able to connect remotely, both our T1 and Comcast connections worked. In fact, I was setting up a remote, VPN [virtual private network] portal just a couple of weeks before the storm. I was able to use that over Comcast, and I was able to VPN directly over the T1. And I was connected through the storm even after we lost power here - the generator went out about an hour into the storm, but I was able to still connect for about half a day on batteries.

What kind of work were you able to do during the storm?

Backing up - particularly the dispatch information, which was sitting on the first

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